Today, during my plan, I ducked into the computer lab to make some copies for the day.
Normally the lab is empty, but because of construction there’s a class in there for the time being, so students were in class while I was making copies and I got a rare view into another classroom here at school.
The students were typing up a paper entitled “My Actual Fall Break”. About half of the students were still working on their essays while the other half were clicking furiously on one of the many flashgames available on Coolmath.com, where the only math that happens is when students get to look at their newest high scores.
The ‘essays’ had to be a paragraph long and the students had two days to finish it. When students finished, the teacher came by and ran the spellchecker, formatted the paper, and saved the work for the students, who were then free to play around on the computer for the remainder of class. Each class period is 50 minutes long, so over the course of two days, the students were asked to write a single paragraph. They didn’t have to exhibit any other mastery of computer technology or Word and spent most of their time playing games.
It broke my heart- these same kids that work so hard in some classes are being turned loose during other classes.
In my class, we strive to spend 50 minutes working our butts off every single day. That’s not to say that we always do because sometimes I get tired, lazy, and burned out too. Sometimes I sneak to my laptop to check twitter while the kids are reading, just because I need a 30-second break from being Mr. Goodier. But by and large, we try hard in my class and I strive to create lessons that drive students towards a goal that has a tangible effect on their lives.
So, this isn’t an ability thing. Some people are better teachers than others and after my experience last year, I’ll never begrudge someone for working hard. But so often in school I see these mindsets from teachers that sets students up for failure.
These mindsets include:
“It’s up to the students to do the work. If they don’t come ready to learn, why should I come ready to teach?”
“The kids worked hard today. They deserve a break.”
“I’m tired. I’ll just find something in the book for them.”
These ideas hurt our kids so much. I’ve seen TFA teachers adopt toxic views towards children, just as I’ve seen “traditional” teachers push kids harder than they thought possible. So this isn’t a TFA problem or an every-other-teacher problem and it certainly isn’t a TFA vs every-other-teacher problem, which is how these narratives are so often shaped.
But it is a problem that we do have in our schools.
As many know, I teach Remedial Language Arts. All of my students are well behind their peers and have me as an elective class in addition to their regular language arts class. On top of that, many of my students have a language acquisition class because they speak English as a second language. This means that some of my students are receiving a tremendous opportunity to catch up to their peers based off of increased instructional time alone.
However, when I covered for one of the language acquisition classes last year, this was the lesson plan I found for the students:
“Students will work on their cursive by writing a paragraph.”
That was it. No other instruction. Students who are reading well below grade level, have limited critical thinking skills, and struggle mightily with writing are instead being told to write in cursive.
I walk by that same class all the time and see the same story: students sitting on desks, talking. Students throwing things. Students clustered in small groups, playing cards. And the teacher sits at the front of the room reading.
That’s not fair.
I understand that current teacher metrics are proving to be wildly inconsistent. I know that we shouldn’t be running off effective teachers. I respect the huge gains that unions and individuals have made for teacher working conditions. But it is in no way just or right that some ineffective teachers, those who don’t even try, continue to draw a check while their students flounder in front of them.
As usual, this is a complicated and difficult issue. I don’t mean to offend anyone and I truly don’t know what the answers are. I know these problems are bigger than me or my school and they might be bigger than our entire educational system. I can’t solve them, but I do feel a duty to point them out.